Networking for success

Marketing and relationship building, it is something every business needs, and yet perhaps one of the biggest challenges for any limousine business is being effective with all kinds of promotion. In the modern, connected world, we have so many options now it can be overwhelming, from a website to email and social media platforms, there are so many ways to make contact with others, it can often be easy to forget an important point, who is the contact and what can you each gain from this relationship?

Connecting with the right people is the key, but this is difficult to focus on when our online activities are so geared towards volume. More friends, more likes, more retweets and so on, these are the things that have been drilled into everyone as being good. The bigger your network, the bigger your success. Every day, you may find new friends or contacts, new requests and invites, but you probably do not even know who most of them are, and yet somewhere at the back of your mind, part of you is convinced that does not matter, it is another person, and that means it is a good thing.

It is easy to get incredibly stressed about all of this, trying to get more contacts each day, sending messages to people you do not know, or are not even sure that they want to do business with you, but the good news is that it really does not have to be like this. What if, instead of a network that is built on numbers alone, the more people the better, we look at networking in a different way? If your networking was all about making connections with the right people, not just any people, it would make networking a much better experience. Not only that, by focusing on just the right people, that is, people who have something to offer in a mutual value exchange, your networking will be more productive too.

For limousine business owners, like many local and small businesses, the accepted way of networking, building numbers, is broken. It is inconvenient, difficult to really track effectiveness, and costs you far too much, both in time and money, but networking still has high value when done right, so a different approach is needed. There is an answer, and of course everything has to have a name, and the name for this is Connection Marketing. However, the concept is easy to understand, easy to put into practice and highly effective, so ignore the name, and focus on the idea, because that is the important part. In marketing speak, Connection marketing is the practice of reaching your business goals through the power of human connectivity, for everyone else, it means combining your networking, word of mouth and referrals to boost your promotional success.

The power of connections is ingrained within society, not just business but everywhere, and this is best illustrated with a couple of well-known phrases. "It is not what you know, but who you know" and the concept of "six degrees of separation". Anywhere in the world these two ideas are found, and that is because they are so often proved to be true, and it is this reality that we want to leverage in connection marketing, so put aside the marketing speak, this is all about those connections.

We all know, the best way to get new customers is word of mouth, no matter how sophisticated social media marketing becomes, nothing beats hearing about a company from someone you know and trust, and this is even more important in the limousine business. Surveys constantly tell us that word of mouth or referrals are the biggest source of new custom, whether it is from current customers who were so impressed by the service they tell everyone they know, your friends and family telling people about the business, even others in the industry or business contacts, car dealers for instance, these are all vital for the continued growth of nearly every limousine business out there. So, with that in mind, the more connections we make, the more referrals and word of mouth promotion we get, surely? Not necessarily, blindly adding new contacts across social media platforms and other online medium, then sending out a promotional message once a month is not going to gain that valued, personal promotion. If you do not really know these contacts, and often they do not know you either, is that really a relationship that has enough trust in it for people to recommend you to others they know? The answer is no, those contacts are only worthwhile if they are real contacts, and this is where connection marketing changes how we think about networks.

Your network has probably been growing for a while, it probably is a combination of online and offline contacts, some of them will be strong relationships, people who recommend you without a second thought because they trust you, some may simply be a member of the same club but with no more in common than that. You can spend a lot of time and money trying to get referrals from these people, attending meetings, sending promotional materials, but how do you know if it has any effect? Worse, what happens when you are at a meeting, and all you have are a bunch of people trying to sell each other services and products? I've been there, it is no use for anything. What connection marketing does is take you out of this loop, where you are running around doing whatever everyone else is doing and hoping to get something from it eventually.

Instead, connection marketing provides you with an easy to follow route to getting those valuable referrals. You have a goal to achieve, and a planned way of getting there that you can follow. For most who try it, taking the guesswork out of everything makes it much less stressful too. You can think of the path to referrals as a funnel, as outlined below.

For connection marketing, you first build a network, increase word of mouth within the network, and then generate referrals. The strength is in the structure, and there is flexibility too. You can combine online and offline contacts as you need, it is effective in any medium, it is the connection that is valuable. For instance, an offline approach could use business chambers, clubs and organizations, meetups or industry events, whereas online contacts could be through social media, LinkedIn, industry forums and communities.

As we have said, not every new contact is a worthwhile contact when it comes to helping promote your business, but with this structured approach, you can quickly maximize the potential of your network and focus on the productive relationships. Building word of mouth and increasing awareness of your business through the network simply means getting those contacts talking about you and your business. This can be accomplished by creating opportunities for those connections within your network, being proactive here is the key to success and why this method of marketing becomes so effective.

"Opportunities" may sound vague, and you are back to thinking about the current strategy of running around hoping for the best, but there is still structure at this point. Getting your network talking about you and your business means providing something for other network members, you can help connect others, for instance if two your contacts run complimentary businesses, tire sales and a car dealer as an example, but they do not know each other, an introduction could help both. Such altruism is not just for its own reward though, a successful outcome from that will bring positives from both, talking about how you helped them to their own contacts. Likewise, you can launch co-promotions with your contacts, this is especially effective with other businesses that share a common customer base, for you this could be a travel agency, event organizer or similar.

There are many other ways to get people to talk about you and your business within the network, and there is another upside to this, helping others feels good, and gets you the rewards you seek. This positive approach to marketing really is a breath of fresh air in a cynical world. Once you have word of mouth going and awareness of your operation has risen, you can then seek referrals, this is much easier from a network of engaged people who are already aware of what you do and are actively discussing you or your business.

Managing your network in this way is more efficient and more effective, but just as importantly it is more enjoyable, creating positive connections with your network and leveraging that into new business and opportunities is a stark contrast to some of the soul destroying marketing practice that many have been pushing for the last 40 years. As business owners, we all have strengths and weaknesses, very few have their strengths in marketing when they start a business and having this alternative approach can really help. We all want to be liked, it's in our nature, and approaching a network with the aim of seeking positive outcomes for others that in turn helps us, that usually plays to all our strengths, rather than the hard sell approach, which does not.

Connection Marketing may appear to be the latest in a long line of buzzwords on the surface, but if we look behind the packaging, the idea itself is based upon human instinct, and as such it is easy to follow, and of course, it works. Start looking for ways you can help your contacts, get them talking about you, and you may be surprised at the results.

 

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Posted on Jan 17 2017

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Networking for success

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